The Jiu-Jitsu Times believes in the concept that jiu-jitsu is for everyone and will profile several jiu-jitsu students and instructors who are training and using BJJ to overcome limitations and add to their lives.
Today the Jiu-Jitsu Times spoke with Steve Austin (yes, like the WWE wrestler), a BJJ instructor who does not have full use of his leg. The Jiu-jitsu Times asked Steve a few questions to get a glimpse into how he uses BJJ to deal with obstacles and improve his life.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Steve, can you tell the Jiu-Jitsu Times’ readers a little about your
Steve Austin: First I would like to thank you for having me and taking the time for this. I have been following your page for some time now along with a lot of my students and always enjoy the content you guys share.
I am from the Philadelphia area and currently own a gym in Southampton, Pennsylvania, about thirty minutes north of Philly called Sion BJJ. I have been training jiu-jitsu for almost fifteen years now and have been involved in some form of martial arts for the past twenty years, ranging from Tae Kwon Do, Kempo, judo and MMA. When I was was introduced to jiu-jitsu, I immediately fell in love, and now I have been able to teach jiu-jitsu for around ten years.
When I first started training, there were not a lot schools in the area, so I traveled up to New York and New Jersey a few times a month to see my instructors from a few different schools over the years. Five years ago, I received my black belt from Alison “Jucao” Brites; and three years ago, I had the opportunity to open my own school, so I left the affiliation and started Sion.
Now I will do my best to make a long story short here. I became involved with martial arts due to being picked on as a kid because I was born with a handicap; a hip disease called Legg-Perthes. It is suppose to be a three-year process, but I was misdiagnosed as having Spina Bifida due to two reasons: one being the average age to develop Legg-Perthes is between eleven and thirteen-years-old, and I was only three when I started showing symptoms; the other reason being that the doctor who performed the surgery messed up horribly because he was abusing prescription drugs and passed out in the middle of the operation.
I was left with life long side effects from this botched surgery. Damaged and severed nerves caused a chain reaction of other problems that I have to this day including losing seventy percent of the feeling in my right leg. But the most significant of these problems is the fact that I now have to be inveterately catheterized. This also caused my second surgery to take place a few years later.
On top of the new problems, I still had my original hip issue. Legg-Perthes is a three-year process, with the first two years being in leg braces while the hip regrows correctly in place. I was in what was called an A frame brace made by a German orthopedic with my legs being spread at an eighty degree angle for almost four years. I was only able to take the braces off for one hour a day to wash up and change clothes.
During this time I was not allowed to walk around or stand up on my feet for any reason. While in these braces, I couldn’t do much. I wasn’t able to walk normally in them, so it was easier to crawl on the floor and move around on the ground than to try and use the walker. The way the braces were spread open I couldn’t fit through normal door ways, so I would have to angle myself around and through them. I was home schooled until I was able to be out of the braces for good.
At seven-years-old, I needed my second surgery. Half of my bowel was removed and used to enlarge my bladder since it was not growing properly. Though the surgery was technically a success, it became difficult and sometimes impossible to have control over my bowels, an issue that followed me into adulthood.
Once the braces were off, I no longer looked like I had any health issues, but that was far from reality. My entire academic journey was a constant battle to not only fit in, but defend myself from other kids making fun of me verbally and physically bullying me. At first I took it, and then over the years it started getting to me and I would finally start resorting to violence and getting into a lot of fights. So, being a fragile child already, I figured I really needed to learn to defend myself and started looking for a place to train. Having seven major surgeries before I even hit my twenties made this very difficult to do. I had to take time off due to two knee surgeries by the age of sixteen, making it by then four times I would have to learn how to walk again since I was born.
Teenage years were full of anger and depression, and almost destroyed me due to the bad choices I was making in life. There were a few times that I gave up mentally but somehow I persisted. Barely surviving my teenage years, I was twenty when I found jiu-jitsu, and it changed everything for me and introduced me to a life worth being proud of. Never being able to play sports as a kid really got to me because I always wanted to do more than I was physically able to. All I wanted to do so badly was go out for the wresting team in middle school since moving around on the ground was so natural for me, but now as an adult I have the final say and I choose jiu-jitsu every day!
Jiu-Jitsu Times: What physical obstacles did you have to overcome to train BJJ? Which adaptations did you have to make to your BJJ game given your specific conditions? What is your game like?
Steve Austin: To this day, I think I like to pretend I don’t have any limitations by still training hard and competing here and there; but the reality is, I have to be careful with what I am really capable of doing. I don’t have a lot of flexibility in my hips or back but I have a different kind of strength that developed from my childhood, and it had a huge effect on my guard, making it stronger in a unique way.
Having to move around on the ground the way I did turned out to be a game changer for me since I was so trained in basic body movements that we all have to learn in our first day of a BJJ class. Still, I have to be mindful that I can get hurt a lot easier than most so it limits me on how much competing I can do. I have to be careful with my knees and back, so at times I will train to protect them instead of just jumping into any position. I had to learn that the hard way over the years.
Luckily enough, I haven’t had too many major injuries from training BJJ, but they have happened. Making adaptions is really what jiu-jitsu is about, so my game is always still developing and I just have to be realistic with what techniques I can play with and what ones I can’t. I think I was forced early on to learn “old man jiu-jitsu” but I love it all and I will play with advanced stuff, but keep a reality check ready to go when needed.
Being a smaller guy, my bottom guard game developed faster than my top game, but I am still learning and my game is always changing depending on what I am working on at the moment. Sometimes I will work on one area for months collecting data and figuring out every little detail I can and then just move on to the next area. Injuries sometimes cause this or I am just fascinated with something and play it until I’m bored.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: How do you feel BJJ has been a positive force in your life? What have you learned from training jiu-jitsu that you have applied to your life off of the mats?
Steve Austin: Finding BJJ has changed everything for me on and off the mats in every way, but I think the biggest thing it has given me is peace of mind. Since I have been training and having this outlet to free myself from the mind and the rest of the world while on the mats, nothing else matters at that moment; it changes everything on how I perceive the outside world when I am not on them.
I was always ashamed and embarrassed of my health issues growing up, and I had to learn to accept myself for who and what I am. Now, if anyone ever has a problem with that, I have no issue with feeling confident enough to enlighten that person on what its like having these medical setbacks in my life and try to allow them to imagine for even a moment what its like to walk in my shoes. I never had that kind of confidence in myself growing up to openly talk about any of my medical issues the way I can now. Also knowing no matter what happens I know this person can never hurt me physically or emotionally more than what I have already gone through in my life on and off the mats. So now verbally there is nothing they can say that can compare in any shape or form to break me.
Now being the one who students are coming to for information has made me realize how much I love seeing someone else grow from BJJ with my help. Watching a student become what they were meant to be in life and living it to the fullest is a feeling unlike any other. Being involved in BJJ has fed all my basic human needs and more, and I am forever grateful for it.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Do you have any words of advice for other BJJ students who are facing obstacles of their own in their BJJ training?
Steve Austin: One of the biggest obstacles I see students face is sticking with jiu-jitsu. Life sidelines people; family, careers, etc. Its always a shame seeing students leave because they could no longer put the time into their training, but it’s a bigger shame seeing people feel like they can’t take some time for themselves. When students are on my mats, they are truly having fun. We have this shared love of jiu-jitsu, and not only as a respect for the sport, but the camaraderie juxtaposed to it as well. For a lot of my students, it’s their one, or at least favorite thing that they do for themselves mentally and physically. And I don’t think I’m alone when I say that the better we treat ourselves, the better partners, parents, employers, and people we end up being.
Another derailment students face is their own progression. As fun as jiu-jitsu is, it’s no secret that it’s a hell of a lot of work, especially in those first few years. It’s understandable that some people may get discouraged if they lack the necessary patience to understand that jiu-jitsu is a lifelong ladder we climb. We have the opportunity to learn so much about ourselves on the mats training and what it all really comes down to is one thing: if you can take it, you can make it. If I just don’t quit and keep going, the rewards will come, whether it be weight loss, self-improvement mentally or physically, or even making black belt one day. I have learned that the only time we really fail is the moment we give up trying to achieve that goal. Failure and suffering are part of any success no matter how you define it.
If you love jiu-jitsu the way I do, you will always find a way to be a part of this humble world and culture that has been created no matter what life puts in your way. Jiu-jitsu has brought so much happiness into my life along with some of the most amazing people and has taken me to extraordinary places around the world. Take every opportunity to learn and share with each other and never forget we always have people below us, on our level, and above us to learn from. We need all of these types of partners in order to grow in anything we do in life. There will always be times we want to quit at something, but for me, my biggest fear is to look back and say I didn’t try hard enough or not at all to reach my goals, so that pushes me every day to do better than the last. I truly attribute much of my personal philosophy to
my involvement in jiu-jitsu and aspire to share my experiences with the hopes of inspiring others for the rest of my life.